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Radiant floor heating is a new choice in home heating and worth considering if you are about to build a new home. There are benefits to radiant floor heating systems and the best time to install is during home construction. It is possible to add radiant floors to an existing home.
Radiant heaters transmit the heat energy from a heat emitting source to an object. If you consider the sun, it is the easiest known source of radiant heats. The sun is hot. It emits energy as heat and when you stand in the sun you feel the warmth it radiates.
So how do we capture radiant heat in technology and use it to heat property? First we must have a heat source, then we must use a method to transmit it to where we want it. Most of us here in the USA are used to forced air central heating, or for much older homes radiators were used. Radiators are a form of radiant heat. A boiler heats the water which is then pumped through the system of pipes and radiators. The heat in the radiator warms the air around it. If you touch a radiator with hot water in, you can burn your hinds! It’s hot. Different countries use different heating systems and radiators are still commonly used in England, my home land.
Think about how we cook too. That’s radiant heat!
At the present my husband and I are considering radiant floor heating for a home we are going to be building. My husband is the engineer so I leave it up to him to make these kinds of decisions, but it certainly looks like we’ll use it as our main heat source for the ranch we are building. The most interesting aspect of the radiant system for me is that not only will it be our heat source but also the air conditioning system!
Radiant Floor Heating Systems
When looking for a radiant heating system, builders and buyers should expect:
- Low initial cost
- Low operating cost
- Energy efficient
- User friendly
- Good for environment
- Compatible with non carbon emitting fuels
If these systems are not cost efficient either for installation or running costs; they will never become main stream and that would be a shame. Anything we can do to help stop the need for carbon emitting fuels has to be good for the planet and the environment we live our daily lives in.
The best aspect of radiant floor heating is you cannot see it but you certainly feel it, because you walk on it and that feels super nice. Radiant floor heating is often used in luxury bathrooms but it’s time to move it to whole house heating.
How is Radiant Heat Different Than Forced Air
Forced air systems heat air and blow it around the house. Air is returned to the furnace for re-heating as needed by the system when the temperature drops and more warm air is needed. The heat level is set at the thermostat. One or more furnaces can be used for larger homes. There can be a poor distribution of air. Most of the air vents are located around the edges of rooms either in the floor or kick-boards. The ducting that brings the air throughout the house can accumulate dust and debris and should be cleaned periodically. Forced air ducting usually supplies air conditioned cool air as in homes with an A/C system.
Radiant heat systems provide heat using water and piping. There are several ways to install the heating system. It can be installed directly into a concrete slab. If you can see floor joists from underneath then the piping can be stapled up to the subfloor. It can be installed into a suspended floor. It can also be weaved into floorboards just below the surface of the top floor layer product.
The method of installation may be determined by building a new house or adding to a new one and the floor types being used. I wondered with a system that is covered in concrete whether you would actually feel the heat or if it would be diminished. In fact the opposite is true. The concrete creates a thermal mass and spreads the heat and holds it.
In both systems the warm air rises but with radiant floor heating it is more direct and often your thermostat will be set much lower to achieve the same constant heat. Both forced air and radiant heating use a thermostat to control the temperature.
The newest radiant floor heating systems are sharing water with the house, both using on heating system to heat the water. This makes for great efficiency and lower cost. Older systems use a radiant floor heating boiler just for the system.
- Energy experts suggest a 25% saving on your heating costs should be expected.
- Radiant floor heating does not blow dirt, dust, bacteria, viruses and pet dander around the house, this can help asthmas sufferers.
- Radiant heating will not dry out your breathing passages and leave them more vulnerable to infection.
- No air vents to drop toys, food, or valuables down by accident.
Can Radiant Heat Be Added to an Existing home?
Yes, you can retro fit your house. Water piping can be placed in the ceiling, walls or stapled up to the floor from below. So if you have a concrete slab, no worries, alternative methods will make it possible.
Are There Problems With Radiant Floor Heating Systems?
First be sure your radiant floor heating installation is performed by companies that have the experience and knowledge. This is not the best time to call on a general contractor! Systems should be tested throughout installation to find any leaks. Any concrete pour should be done after testing. Digging up concrete is the worst scenario. It would be wise to make sure any new system comes with a warranty as well.
Problems occur more due to poor installation and lack of knowledge than any other reason. In the case of concrete being poured over the piping, there must be an insulation barrier under the concrete to prevent your heating escaping down into the earth. Insulation is as important in the house to prevent unnecessary loss of heat through exterior walls. Carpet is not a very good choice for floor coverings, by the time you have the pad and carpet, the heat is not going to be very warm, it is absorbed but not transmitted.
The biggest concern with water and piping is leakage. This is why you must have the experts and they must direct other tradesmen to keep them informed of any other issues relating to the floor especially during installation. Tradesman that puncture a line need to fess up! The system should be pressurized before laying down the concrete.
Freezing of the water in the lines may occur in new construction, if the weather is cold. Initial testing may result in water left in the lines. Anti-freeze can be added to the water to prevent this.
Radiant heating is silent. If you start hearing noise it’s most likely to be trapped air. Call the experts and have them come and flush the system to remove all the air bubbles and silence should be restored.
You may need a dehumidifier to prevent moisture build up. Cooling a home can be done but my understanding is it is not very efficient, so it’s back to my engineer husband on that one to convince me.
Radiant Floor Heating Cost
This will vary based on type. Hydronic (water) heating is cheaper than electric. It’s cost effective when you install on larger square footage. It’s likely cheaper to install during construction as opposed to retro fitting. At time of writing an estimated cost is $6 to $9 per square foot. So a 2500 square foot house would cost somewhere between $15,000 and $22,500.
That might sound a lot buy it’s likely less than a furnace, ducting, piping, registers and labor for forced air. It also depends on things like location labor rates, contractor travel and job site volume. i.e. several houses at a time make it more cost effective. (New Subdivision).
Our new home is in an area where there is no gas. We will use electricity as our main fuel supply but likely have a hydronic powered system. We’ll back it up with a wood burning stove so in the event of a power cut, we are covered. We’ll also be adding solar panels and will be having a small wind powered system. Hopefully we wont need to pull from the grid, our location is in a windy area, we are more likely to put fuel into the grid.
Other Methods of Radiant Heating
We talked in the beginning about radiators as a method of radiant heating.
Direct fire is another radiant heat method, an open flame emits heat directly into the air. So a home that has a fireplace can either burn wood or another fuel source to create fire. You can even have a fake fireplace and use a gas line which you ignite to burn and create a small flame of fire. Not as efficient at heating as a fireplace loaded with logs, but much less clean up needed.
Then there are wood burning stove and wood pellet stoves. I like the idea of a wood pellet stove and I have one on my wish list for somewhere in our new home. We may even use one in the main fireplace. This will be our alternative heat source. Radiant floor heating our first.